News release from Secretary of State’s Office:
Tennessee’s public libraries will soon have more books available – cheaper and faster than before – thanks to a new interlibrary loan service set to debut next year.
The new Firefly Courier service, developed by the Tennessee State Library and Archives, will link rural, suburban and urban public libraries throughout the state, as well as libraries at colleges and universities.
The new courier service will allow libraries to request and receive books on loan from other libraries more quickly and more efficiently. Interlibrary loans, which previously were handled through the postal service, account for about 125,000 books checked out from Tennessee libraries each year.
The State Library and Archives, part of the Office of the Secretary of State, provides support and training for regional library systems across Tennessee.
“For many years, we have tried to reimburse libraries for their postage costs to support the interlibrary loan program,” State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. “We have been spending about $200,000 per year, but even that only covers about half the postage costs.”
While four legislators have overspent their taxpayer-funded “constituent communications” accounts as their terms in the 107th General Assembly wind to a close, one lawmaker will be sitting on a $100,000 when the 108th General Assembly begins on election day, a review of records shows.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, ran up the biggest deficit with an account that was $6,023 in the red. The shortfall would have been larger had not state Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, who is giving up his Senate seat to run for Congress, transferred $2,652 from his account to Kyle’s account.
Smaller amounts are owed to the state by Reps. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, ($47.34); Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, ($1,406), and Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough ($162.92).
The four lawmakers with deficits all faced stiff re-election challenges in primaries this year. Kyle won his race, defeating Sen. Beverley Marrero in the August Democratic primary in a contest set up by legislative redistricting. Because he has no general election opponent, his account will get a fresh infusion of state funds — $6,832, to be precise — when his new term officially begins the day after the Nov. 6 election.
Republicans are faulting Democratic state Sen. Tim Barnes for spending $15,517 from his taxpayer-funded “constituent communications” account on two mailers this year, one in June and one in September, reports the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. “It’s pretty clear that constituent communications need to be done when the legislature is in session,” said Jordan Young, Senate Republican Caucus executive director.
“Saving all that money and using it during the campaign when his services are completed is wrong,” Young said. “Wouldn’t you want to know about a particular issue before you vote on it?”
Legislators are given an allowance for mailers for communications with constituents, but those mailers are prohibited during the 30 days before a primary or a general election.
In this case, the June mailer went out about a week before the cutoff, which Young said indicates Barnes was “flirting with that rule.”
But, he said, “whether it follows the rule or not doesn’t make it right. Sen. Barnes is using taxpayer resources to build up his name” and that’s not fair, he said, when “our candidate has to pay for it himself.”
On Nov. 6, Barnes faces Republican Mark Green for the District 22 seat, which includes Montgomery, Stewart and Houston counties. Young characterized it as the only “highly contested” state Senate race where the incumbent is a Democrat.
…Barnes responded that there’s nothing unusual or unethical about the mailers.
“I’m sure they would call it that, but if you look into when legislators mail these out, they do it during the session and after the session,” Barnes said.
“It is not only perfectly ethical, it is common practice and a vital and needed way to communicate with constituents.”
“A lot of these are summarizing what we did in the legislative session to get feedback. It gives us the opportunity to plan for the next session.”
…Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis called the accusation “unfounded criticism.”
“All legislative mail – from the content to the timing – is approved by the speaker’s office, therefore if they have an argument, they have to take it up with Speaker (Ron) Ramsey, who the last time I looked was a Republican,” Kyle said.
“And I guarantee he reads every one of those word for word.”
— Note: For more on the ‘constituent communications’ accounts — which are exploited on a bipartisan basis — see this story written with the primary pending and mostly focused on how incumbents — Republicans included — transferred money from their accounts to help colleagues with the mailers under question.
Some state legislators facing re-election challengers have been overspending their taxpayer-funded accounts for communicating with constituents, covering the shortfall either with political money or transfers from colleagues who are either retiring or face no re-election opposition.
Some examples from a review of the 2012 “postage and printing” accounts:
-State Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, who is not seeking re-election transferred $4,720 from his account to state Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, who faces a general election opponent. Another retiring Democrat, Rep. Bill Harmon of Dunlap, chipped in $1,500 to Windle from his account.
-Five Republican lawmakers with no opposition gave $1,000 each to state Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, who faces a challenge in the Aug. 2 primary. Without the transfers, Montgomery would have lacked enough money in his account to cover a May mail piece carrying the headline, “Rep. Richard Montgomery: Making Job Creation Priority #1.”
-At least a dozen lawmakers had to write checks to the state to either cover a deficit in their taxpayer-funded accounts or avoid one. Only one legislator wrote a personal check — Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, for $62.02 — while the others transferred political campaign funds. The biggest campaign fund check to the state as of Friday came from Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, for $2,833. Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, had tentatively reported a shortfall of $8,653, though the paperwork was still being processed Friday.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tré Hargett’s office spent more than $42,000 this month to send letters cautioning 118,268 older Tennessee voters that they must have government-issued photo identification to vote in the March 6 primary, according to Andy Sher. “Dear Voter,” Hargett says in letters mailed out as early voting in presidential primaries began Feb. 15. “The Tennessee General Assembly has adopted a new law regarding identification needed to vote beginning with the 2012 election cycle.
“When you vote in person, either during early voting or on Election Day, you must present identification which contains your name and photo,” wrote Hargett, a Republican who backed the law. “To be valid, this photo ID must have been issued by a state or federal government.”
The letters were mailed to voters 60 and over who under another Tennessee law have not been required to have photos on their driver licenses.
In an email response to questions posed by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Hargett spokesman Blake Fontenay said postage for the letters cost the Secretary of State’s office $42,480.09.
“We don’t have the production cost yet because we haven’t yet received a bill,” Fontenay said.
When the Republican-backed bill passed the legislature last year, it wasn’t supposed to cost taxpayers much of anything, according to a fiscal note prepared by legislative analysts.
“The secretary of state will not require additional resources to implement the photographic identification requirement,” the memo said.
House Republicans have killed Democrat-sponsored bills to curb the hoarding and transfer of money from taxpayer-funded accounts used to send mailings from legislators to voters.
“If these were such great bills, why weren’t they introduced four years ago, five years ago, before we (Republicans) were in the majority?” grumbled Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, at one point in debate over two bills by Rep. McDonald, D-Portland.
Both revolve around the “postage and printing” accounts maintained for each legislator. Representatives are allocated $2,019 per year and senators $6,832. The money is intended to cover costs of printing and mailing non-political materials to constituents.
In practice, some legislators never use the money and let it accumulate for years – then transfer it to another incumbent who is facing a serious re-election campaign. That legislator can then use the money to send mailings to voters in his or her district reporting on his or her accomplishments, providing pictures of meetings with prominent people and the like.
Rep. Kent Williams, the Legislature’s only independent, referred to the materials as “so-called-not-campaign fliers” during the discussion before the House State and Local Government Subcommittee last week.
“It’s a political tool. We all know that,” said Williams, who said he favored changing the law on the accounts – just not in the way proposed by McDonald.